The rise of the digital nomad is one of the biggest social developments of the new millennium. No single profession has a monopoly on those who self-identify as digital nomads. The lifestyle has been adopted by freelancers, programmers, affiliate marketers, consultants, and just about anyone else who has found a way to do their work independent of any particular location. The one factor shared by all is the “digital” part—the power of the Internet that allows the nomad to work from anywhere on the globe. For many people, switching to an unstructured work environment takes a bit of getting used to. It’s not always easy to be productive when faced with too much freedom. With that in mind, here are 11 tips for working on the road as a digital nomad.
1. Don’t try to work at the beach
If you run a Google image search for the phrase “digital nomad” over half the results are going to be a photo of someone sitting on the beach with their laptop. It’s a nice visual metaphor, but I know of very few people who can be anything close to productive in such an environment. On the practical side, sand and sun are your computer’s enemies. If you’re sitting on the beach sand will get all over your keyboard no matter how careful you try to be. And the glare from bright sunlight will make it really difficult to even see your screen, much less get any work done. If you do manage to find a shady enough spot to be able to view the screen, you’ll probably still need the brightness turned up all the way—and that means your battery is going to drain quickly. On the motivational side of things, how well can you really focus on your work with bikini babes splashing around in the waves nearby? The better approach might be to bunker down and crank out your work away from the water first, and then enjoy your beach time in complete relaxation mode.
2. Always pack a universal travel adapter
This is a pretty simple tip. Different countries have different shaped electrical outlets. If you’ve ever been faced with the prospect of fitting three round pins into two flat holes then you already know how important it is to always carry a universal adapter on your international travels. You should be able to buy one in just about any airport—look for shops selling other travel supplies like neck pillows and money pouches.
3. Get regular exercise to lower stress and prevent injury
When traveling around and working on the go, there is a good chance that you’ll be working exclusively on a laptop computer. It’s impossible to have optimal posture when sitting down in front of your laptop unless you use a portable stand to raise the screen up to eye level (which—paired with an external keyboard and mouse—is a great idea). To prevent or alleviate back, shoulder, neck, elbow, and wrist pain a daily exercise routine that includes some yoga or other stretching activity can be very beneficial. You should also take short, frequent breaks while working to get up and walk around a little. This will keep your skeletal muscles fresh so they don’t reach the breaking point.
4. Develop a regular work schedule that suits you
You’ve left behind the 9-5 slog and you’re not working for “the man” anymore, but you still need to put time into your work and be productive. It can become too easy to procrastinate when there’s not someone watching over your back, so you’ll need to identify and stick to a work routine that is best suited to you. For some that means getting up at the crack of dawn and finishing all their daily tasks before lunch. For others it might mean two or three solid blocks of work spaced out through the day. And yet others may feel they are most productive when working late into the night. You know yourself better than anyone else does, so identify your best work schedule and then go to it!
5. Just say “no” to multitasking
Multitasking is a great way to make yourself feel busy and a terrible way to get anything worthwhile accomplished. The human brain can be much more productive when it is focused on a single task at a time. Rather than trying to do many things at once, write down a list of all your key tasks and hit each in order. As you cross off each finished task your sense of accomplishment and motivation should increase, which will help you finish the final tasks that much quicker.
6. Keep meetings to a minimum
Of course you may need to hold meetings with your clients to discuss the particulars of a current project, but try to keep them to a minimum. Unregulated meetings can become a huge time drain. What could be discussed in 5 minutes more often than not turns into a 45 minute meeting filled with pointless small-talk and rehashing details that all parties are already in agreement on. If you must have a meeting, use a checklist of the key questions that need answering so that the meeting stays on track.
7. Go offline whenever possible
The Internet is a key tool for every digital nomad, but depending on the nature of your work you may not need to be wired-in all the time. If you are physically able to get chunks of your work accomplished offline, then doing so will allow you to eliminate possible distractions from social media and other background noise.
8. Travel slow to save money and appreciate each place you visit
As the heading suggests, traveling slowly by spending a minimum of several weeks in any one location will help you to save money and get the most out of each place that you call your temporary home. When you take enough time to explore and get a feel for your surroundings you will also be more productive at work because you’ll find the best spots to get stuff done without too much distraction. Renting a room by the week or month is of course also far more economical than renting by the day in most cases. Airbnb is a good place to look for deals on accommodation that can be rented long-term. You may even want to slow down to a stop just to get some work done. There’s nothing wrong with the decision as constant traveling can interrupt your work balance. Many freelancers end up recharging their energy levels and wallets in affordable locations for that very reason. Chiang Mai, Thailand is a great example of this. Alternatively you may also be looking for extra work. Jobs for digital nomads can become available if you’re located in best areas for those opportunities.
9. Know your coffee limit and stick to it
If you find yourself largely working out of cafes, it can be easy to find your daily intake of coffee steadily increasing. As we know, too much caffeine can lead to insomnia. Sleepless nights can then lead to exhaustion and a sharp decline in productivity. Excessive coffee drinking to fight the exhaustion will just lead you in an endless cycle. It’s good to know your body’s daily limit of caffeine and stick to it. Mix up your routine by drinking plain water, fruit juice, or other beverages rather than sticking to a strict cappuccino diet.
10. Give yourself weekends, but not necessarily on the weekend
When you set your own schedule, there is nothing stopping you from working 7 days a week. In the long run, however, this is probably not the best habit to get into for your physical and mental health. Weekends exist for a reason. We all need to rest once in a while. That being said, there might be some advantage to not taking your days off on the same day of the week that everyone else does. In many cities, the most interesting places to visit can become crowded on weekends, yet are relatively quiet mid-week. By scheduling your own “weekend” on Thursday and Friday, for example, you can better explore the city you’re staying in by avoiding the crowds.
11. Connect with a digital nomad community and expats in the city you’re staying in
There are many online resources for getting connected with the larger community of digital nomads and expats working in your temporary home. Facebook groups are a good place to start. Just type the city name and “expat” or “nomad” into the search bar and you’re bound to find something. Connecting with other nomads is not just a good way to get information about the best apartments or coffee shops—it’s also a way to find professionals you can work with who will be on the same page as you right off the bat. For example, if you need a custom web app built to help your business grow, you can maybe hire a software developer in the local expat community instead of turning to a complete stranger who may or may not understand your goals and expectations.
Good luck with your travel goals and your endeavors to work from anywhere. It’s a big wide world out there. I hope these digital nomad tips might add to your success in exploring it. Enjoy this video recently put together of the awesome digital nomad community in Chiang Mai.